Paul R. Hardy, author of The Last Man on Earth Club, generously agreed to let me interview him about his book, writing, and other subjects.You can find Paul at his blog – The Last Man on Blog – and, as of recently, GoodReads.
If you’re interested in the book, don’t forget to check out my review and the giveaway that is currently on! You could win your own eBook copy of The Last Man on Earth Club.
1. Do you think that to write a book like “The Last Man on Earth Club” you need to have an interest in end-of-the-world scenarios or do you think for you, the interest was just about showing the processes of grief?
The end of the world very definitely came first, but the focus on dealing with the process of grief and therapy was what made the idea more interesting to me than a simple apocalypse story.
My usual approach to finding an interesting idea is to find an unlikely and absurd situation – for example, a meeting of multiple “last survivors” – and try to figure out what kind of realistic reasons there might be for such a situation. It’s always more interesting to have people react to bizarre situations as they would in the real world, without the larger-than-life responses that are far too common in genre fiction. Psychological trauma seems inevitable given what the “last survivors” would have suffered. These would be people who faced enormous difficulties living in any kind of society after rescue, let alone a completely foreign one in another universe. Therapy would then be an inevitable response to their trauma.
With this deliberately prosaic approach to a situation of a fantastical nature, I had to get on with researching the psychological traumas that occur in disasters, and found lots of fascinating stuff while reading up on PTSD. I couldn’t make all my characters PTSD sufferers – after all, some of them come from societies so advanced that they’ll have eliminated the problem – but the descriptions of our most modern techniques gave me much of the framework of the story. The mixture of group and individual therapy; the use of exposure therapy to deal with the underlying problem; and the sheer difficulty of making enough of a diagnosis to be able to help the characters, something that can take months or even years. That long process of diagnosis is really the backbone of the story: I could have the characters interacting and conflicting at the same time as I progressively explored their pasts and their apocalypses, and revealed their secrets bit by bit.
So yeah, I did end up finding the process of grief and therapy to be the primary interest, but it stems from wanting to do an apocalypse story that was different and unusual.
In other words – I found something where I could engage my brain and still get to have zombies, killer cyborgs, superheroes, malevolent gods and Big Things Blowing Up. How could I resist?
2. Is it true that your middle name isn’t real, and if so, how did you come to choosing the letter R?
Well, you see, it happened to be Talk Like a Pirate Day one year…
But seriously, my name is boring. Adding a middle initial makes it look a little less tedious, and means I don’t get mixed up with an illustrator whose work keeps popping up on Amazon. And yes, that actually is my middle initial.
Although in real reality, it was actually a plot to remove one of George R. R. Martin’s middle initials so he wouldn’t sound like a motorbike engine whenever he said his name. It was an act of mercy, I swear.
3. I’ve read that you were a filmmaker in your youth, what types of films were you making?
As much as I would have liked to do SF, that’s difficult when you have no money. The BBC managed to do it frequently, but I’d seen enough of Doctor Who, Blakes Seven, Sapphire & Steel et al to have a vast distaste for the production quality of those series, even when I liked them overall.
So I went for comedy, mostly. I made a few other bits and pieces, but comedy was what worked best for me. The BBC were nice enough to give me an award once, and I ended up in the pages of OK!, which should have warned me that something was horribly wrong. Writing novels suits me rather better.
Plus, of course, you get to do all the special effects and big canvas stuff in novels without having to mess around with any kind of Adobe software. That can’t be bad.
Here’s some links to a few of the sillier ones, should you have a need to giggle:
4. OK! Is one of those tabloid/celebrity type of magazines isn’t it? I take it you’re not a fan of them?
I only found out I was in it because my sister told me, and I was only in it because the award I received was presented by somebody from The Fast Show, an incredibly popular sketch show at the time. I had no idea where the photos were going – presumably the film festival sold them to try and offset the ruinous cost of putting on a film festival. OK!, Hello! and their like are really just photo-galleries of famous people having better lives than anyone who reads the magazine, usually presented in a fawning lickspittle-ish manner. They’re intensely depressing.
My other main memory of the night is of having a sore throat and being unable to get to the bar because of all the people congratulating me. I begged an acquaintance to get me some water, and wonderfully, he did. Less wonderfully, it turned out that he’d brought back sparkling water, which is to a sore throat what sandpaper is to a sunburn. Ouch.
Say, that silver kinda looks like it has a cloudy lining…
5. With all this post-apocalyptic love going on, have you ever considered if and how you would survive an apocalypse?
If I ever survived an apocalypse, my first response would be to try and find out who’d put me into virtual reality, because I can’t imagine any realistic scenario where I wouldn’t be dead very quickly. The most I could hope for is a lovely spot in a mass grave, and in most apocalypses you don’t even get that. As was pointed out in Threads, you’re not going to waste fuel or manpower on digging graves when there are vastly more important things to do, like agriculture.
This is the seductive quality of the apocalypse story: everyone imagines that they’ll be the survivor. They’ll be the one fighting cool battles against zombies, bikers, mutants, aliens, or whatever. And many apocalypse stories are at least partly about the enormous freedom that comes with the collapse of society, which is another seductive feature of the whole thing.
But I wouldn’t survive. You wouldn’t survive. Nobody reading this article would survive. We’d all be dead, quite possibly in horrendous ways. We may find the apocalypse fascinating, but you really wouldn’t want to live there. Because you wouldn’t live at all.
6. I was reading your post about ideas and how writers get asked where their ideas come from, but what other questions do you find you’re asked a lot when it comes to writing?
“When are you going to get a proper job?”
“Can you read my script?”
“Why did you turn out to be the weird one?”
“Can you read my novel?”
“No, seriously, when are you going to get a proper job?”
“Can you read my poetry?”
“Does that make any money, then?”
“Can you produce my film for me? And write it? And cast it? And shoot it? I’ll just turn up on the first day and direct it, don’t worry, I know what to do…”
“Are you ever going to grow up?”
It’s nice to be asked some serious questions for a change.
Mind you, there’s one perennial that’s a bit more serious: Do you plan your stories or just plunge in and write?
I’m definitely a planner. My stories are usually too complex for anything else. Not that I’m averse to changing the plan when it looks like it isn’t going to work – something that happened several times on The Last Man on Earth Club – but without some kind of basic path to follow, I tend to freeze up. Especially when there are six or seven characters all clamouring to have their say, and earth-shattering events that need to be happening but only once everything’s in place. Some people can just jump in and do this without planning. I have a term for them: “lucky bastards.”
7. What’s the first story you ever wrote, as far back as you can remember, and can you tell us anything about it?
I honestly can’t remember my first story, but a few early ones stick out. Getting hold of my grandmother’s typewriter and writing a story about a young family being moved off-world and the child slowly understanding that the move was permanent and they’d never return to Earth; the week our English teacher was sick and we were left to our own devices, when I wrote a story about the last man on earth abandoning his wife’s corpse to try and find another survivor, only to die in the attempt; and then a world of acid rain and glass wildlife where the colonists accidentally let a normal bunny out in a acid storm and have to watch it perish.
You know, I always used to wonder why they sent me to that child psychologist…
8. Do you have an idea of what we’ll be seeing from you in future?
I’m working on another novel, which doesn’t have a title yet. It’s a multiverse story again, but this time it’s a series of entirely virtual universes which are seriously bizarre. I’m hoping it’ll be a lot shorter that The Last Man on Earth Club, because I really want to have another book out in less than two years…
Once that’s done – and if there’s any interest – I’d like to go back to some of the background material from The Last Man on Earth Club and write some short stories and novellas. I spent six months coming up with all the characters and worlds and apocalypses, and a large part of that material didn’t get into the book. I’d love to show how Liss’s world was breaking down even before the apocalypse happened, or some of Iokan’s earlier career, or how the slavery of Pew’s world warped and twisted their entire history. But only if there’s enough of a market for it.
9. As a fan of The Last Man on Earth Club, I can say you’ve already got someone who would read any spin offs based on the book, but if there wasn’t a market would you go ahead and write those stories anyway? Say for yourself?
The problem is an entirely mercenary one: at the moment I have a day job which restricts my time, so any writing has to go towards something I can sell, because ultimately I want to make a living doing this. At the moment, spin-off material would not sell enough to make it worth my while. This might change next year, but for now I really need to get on with another novel.
(It’s nice to hear I’ll make at least one sale, though!)