Sam Kates writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror. He is based in South Wales, UK where he lives with a family, a computer, and way too many books. He is an avid fan of rugby and beer (sometimes together), which means that I must hang out with him at least once IRL. His writing can skew to the dark side, which I endorse with two big thumbs up. As such, Sam presented as an ideal candidate for some random berating… er, friendly questioning.
How do you see writing? As a hobby or a passion?
Neither, really. More as a necessity. There are times when I can be passionate about it, but more often than not I regard it as a job. It’s also the best way I know of ridding myself of an excess of imagination—a sort of release valve. Although I didn’t start writing fiction until in my late twenties, I find myself now in my mid-fifties unable to seriously contemplate not writing.
Do you have a day job as well?
Yes, though my book sales had grown to the point around two years ago where I could go part-time in the day job. My greatest desire is to be able to give up the day job entirely and write full-time.
Were your parents reading enthusiasts who gave you a push to be a reader as a kid?
They didn’t need to be. As soon as I’d learned to read as a four- or five-year-old, I began to read books for pleasure and I haven’t stopped since.
From all that we have been hearing and seeing in the movies, most writers are alcoholics. Your views on that?
Many Hollywood generalizations are rather silly, aren’t they? I’m sure there are writers who are alcoholics, just as can be found in most walks of life. Alcohol is reputed to have played a large part in the life and premature death of probably the most famous of my literary countrymen, Dylan Thomas. But there must be many, many more writers who enjoy the occasional tipple without being dependent upon it. As for me, I enjoy beer and the occasional glass of red wine, in case you’re buying.
How did you celebrate the publishing of your first book?
By getting outrageously drunk. It was the Sunday before Christmas in 2013 and I went for lunch to the local pub with my wife and daughters. A fair amount of red wine and beer were consumed over the meal and for the couple of hours we lingered afterwards, but the real damage was done when we returned home. I’d been presented with a few bottles of champagne by friends and these were duly dispatched (not only by me—my girls were more than happy to join in). The big mistake was cracking open the Christmas bottle of Baileys and drinking the lot. Suffice it to say, I had to go to work the following morning with the mother of all hangovers.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
Not as much as I’d like; I rarely find time to read during the day with all the other commitments I have. Self-publishing is a full-time job in itself—I do everything myself, from editing and designing covers to marketing and accounting—let alone having to work at a regular part-time job and running a small editing business. But I always make time to read at night before going to sleep.
Favorite authors? Here’s a few off the top of my head: Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, Tolkien, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Frederick Forsyth, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke… ah, too many to list them all.
How many bookshelves are in your house?
Only counting those containing my books, there are five bookcases around the house plus a couple of other shelves, all creaking under the weight of books—lots of them are reference books, but the majority are novels. Many of the shelves are double-stacked so I have to pull out the books in front to reach the ones behind. Every now and then my wife will nag me to give some books away to a charity sale and I’ll do my best, but I’m never able to make a wholesale clearance. You simply never know when you might want to re-read a book so it’s impossible to give too many away. And I have a Kindle…
Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?
Listen carefully: don’t waste time during the late 1990s and early 2000s accumulating rejections from agents and publishers. Instead, accumulate a pile of publishable material, preferably novel-length, preferably to include a series or two. As the first decade of the twenty-first century passes its mid-point, pay close attention to what’s happening online in the book world. If you don’t, you’ll only notice the self-publishing revolution after the heady days are all but over, and you’ll only have two completed novels and a bunch of short stories with which to enter the fray. Oh, and make sure you learn how to use a program called Photoshop as soon as it comes out and stay abreast of all its upgrades—trust me, it will stand you in good stead.
Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Very much a pantster. I wish I could plot an entire novel—I imagine writing the first draft would then be a lot less painful—but my brain simply refuses to let me. My work may start as plot-driven, but the characters quickly take over and, I suspect, it’s one of the reasons I simply can’t plot beyond a few roughed-out chapters. Until I get to know my characters, and I only come to know them through writing them, I have no idea how they will react to the situation they find themselves in. Ergo, I cannot plan how a plot will progress. At best, I might have an ending in mind, though even then it’s sometimes a difficult task to steer the characters in that direction.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
Read extensively, inside and outside the genres in which you want to be published. Write as often and as much as you can, even when you don’t feel like it.
Be cautious about the advice you read online—although there is a lot of good advice freely available, there’s also a lot of opinion out there masquerading as fact.
Prepare yourself for disappointments; almost everyone gets rejected somewhere along the way. Above all, persevere.
Learn more at SamKates.co.uk